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Area schools struggle to balance the books

Posted on Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Westmoreland Schools face $2 million deficit

It’s an estimate, but a loss of over $2 million could slam the local school division in the upcoming school year. Along with that bit of news comes the possibility of reducing or eliminating many positions division wide.

After two and half hours of meeting on Monday night, and delegating in a second closed session, the Westmoreland County School Board announced they would send a proposed budget of $17,845,154 to the county’s supervisors for approval.

“We have had some difficult hours working on this,” said division superintendent Rebecca Lowry.

The Westmoreland County School Board and Central Office Staff are like many localities challenged with creating the 2013-2014 budget.

The proposed budget shows a decrease in revenue of $1,856,131.83 compared to this year’s amended budget, and an increase in health insurance costs of $149,877 (12 percent) to be paid by the division.

“We will be $2 million short to provide the same services for students that we are currently doing this year,” said assistant superintendent of instruction Cathy Rice.

Prior to the meeting, school officials acknowledged that 42 letters were sent out to employees notifying them that their job or position pay would be reduced or eliminated. However, the board went back after closed session to narrow it to 35. Among the 35 employee positions targeted 10 individuals are full time, six are part-time and 19 are under contract.

“We know that we will have a skeleton budget,” said madam chairman Iris Lane.

Last Monday was held as a budget meeting, but no one from the public spoke when the announcement was made. Instead, division principals were copying down the information of what could await their fellow staff members.

Lowry said she wished to notify the individuals first before the positions were disclosed to the public. The next step will be to have a meeting with the county supervisors to discuss the final budget before it is approved.

In other matters, the board was introduced to the five-year strategic plan detailing the goals and strategies the school division in the future. The major components included student achievement, human resources, community involvement, school culture and school facilities.

As the plan looks to school facilities, the board is expected to take some effort in the upcoming months on developing plans for a new high school.

Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates Architects will be assisting the school board with a facility assessment of Washington & Lee High School and later visiting some of their previous projects including King George and Northumberland High Schools.

Action was also taken to form a corps group from the school division’s volunteer committee consisting of board members, central office administrators and community members.